Mijares: Results of new standards-based assessments reveal local success stories

In September, the state released the first batch of new assessment scores that revealed how well students are learning California’s English and math instructional standards.

desk-of-al-smallThe result? Orange County students had outpaced their state and regional counterparts, both on the English and math portions of the test.

That’s good news, yet these inaugural scores also reflect how much more work is needed as we continue our transition to 21st-century learning standards. Indeed, we are witnessing a remarkable transformation for education that’s not unlike the construction of a new highway system; and just like building a highway, some time will be needed to fully calculate the economic benefits.

If you’re not familiar with the new California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP, student scores in English language arts and mathematics are divided into four achievement bands — standard exceeded, standard met, standard nearly met and standard not met.

According to data released by the California Department of Education, 53 percent of Orange County students met or exceeded the English standard in 2015, and 45 percent did the same in math. California’s rates were nine points lower in each subject, with 44 percent of students meeting or exceeding the English standard and 34 percent meeting or exceeding the standard in math.

It’s worth noting that Orange County students actually performed better on these 2015 assessments — at every comparable grade level — than students in the county who first took the California Standards Tests back in 2002.

Drill down a little deeper and you’ll find several local success stories. At Middle College High School in the Santa Ana Unified School District, an astounding 99 percent of 11th-graders met or exceeded the CAASPP standard for English. The Irvine Unified School District posted the highest math scores in the state among districts with 25,000 students or more. And when you combine the number of students who met or nearly met the standards in Orange County, our population posted rates of 76 percent in English and 72 percent in math.

California officials have stressed that the new assessments should not be compared with those of previous years, as the tests — and the standards on which they are based — are so fundamentally different from the bubble-in versions that preceded them. Yet these results can and will serve as the baseline for measuring future progress in Orange County and elsewhere throughout the state. Even more important, they’re ensuring teachers and administrators have the information they need to make data-driven instructional decisions in the classroom.

In the end, it’s less about state and regional test scores and more about meeting the needs of each student — and ensuring all are equipped with the knowledge and skills required for college and career readiness and success.